The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Using It

May 17, 2007 | 3 Comments

“Oh, he’s just using religion.” The accusation has a number of meanings. Most commonly, the claim is that the “user” doesn’t really believe (say, Elmer Gantry) but is merely capitalizing on the sincere faith of others to manipulate them in service of baser monetary or political ends. Sometimes it’s directed at a truly religious person who is thought to be misusing or “hijacking” the faith (say, Jerry Falwell), perhaps out of overzealousness or a misunderstanding of its true principles.

But did you ever hear someone get charged with “using atheism”? The concept has a number of difficulties. First, atheism’s traditional unpopularity makes it hard or futile to use; in some circles the attempt would be seen as akin to trying to “use pedophilia.” Second, because affirmative moral principles can’t be directly derived from the non-existence of God, it is questionable whether it can be appropriately used toward any particular end. Third, at least with respect to the first sense described in the paragraph above, an insincere “user” of atheism would necessarily be a believer — and I don’t know of any religion that would advocate that sort of charade.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, nevertheless, merchandized nonbelief to some extent while in the sincere but limited pursuit of policing the church/state border. I suspect that in the coming years, atheism will become more fully “used” than it ever has, both monetarily and politically. The Iraq war and other administration policies have fostered an anti-religious backlash, with books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and now Christopher Hitchens becoming top-ten bestsellers. The works are only nominally about theology — they’re not thorough philosophical treatises like the classics by George Smith and Michael Martin — and so they invite their readers to see atheism as a necessary part of a broader social movement.

The “using” will become more apparent as the movement fragments. Although at present atheists are largely left-of-center, they will eventually come to inhabit all niches of the political spectrum. The competition among factions will lead to heated debates over the true implications and imperatives of godlessness — and suspicions will arise on all sides that some of those marching under the banner of an unsupervised temporal existence with no afterlife are actually pursuing some more nefarious agenda.


3 Responses to “Using It”

  1. J
    May 17th, 2007 @ 8:40 pm

    I’ve definitely noticed not only more atheists popping up and coming out, but also a wider acceptance of atheism in America. I believe that atheism is taking the path that homosexuality took in the 70’s, but is it possible to have no discrimination? Will there always be another group to discriminate against?

    Hopefully people will come to realize that anti-gay and anti-atheist bigotry under the mask of religion is still bigotry nonetheless.

  2. Therese Z
    May 18th, 2007 @ 10:08 am

    Hopefully J will come to realize that disagreement about the morality of sexual activity choices (and the celebration of them) is just that, disagreement. And what with decisions made by the popular culture about changing the “rightness” or “wrongness” about these actions being completed mere seconds ago, historically speaking, disagreement and discussion is inevitable.

    Bigotry? Whiny babies….

    Good to see the RA back in action!

  3. Addie
    May 18th, 2007 @ 11:01 am

    I am certain Barack Obama fits into this “using it” category. He was an atheist, and I believe he only “found god” because he believed “god” would help him find his way to the White House (or any other political office, really).

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